Review: Tom Bihn Zephyr
It’s no secret that we like the products that Port Angeles, Washington-based Tom Bihn puts out, but we’ve often review products in the messenger bag category. The Zephyr takes the “fun” and “hip” aspects of the messenger bag, but packages them in a midsized briefcase. The Zephyr is, in fact, a smaller version of the company’s popular Empire Builder briefcase.
Normally when one thinks of a briefcase, pictures of leather, aluminum, or your parents come to mind. Instead, the $150 Zephr is much like Tom Bihn’s messenger bags, except that the bag is designed to be carried by the top handles first and foremost, with the ability to add a shoulder strap. Additionally, to access the main compartment, one would just unzip the top of the bag, rather than accessing it under a flap. The bag itself has a bit of a rigid structure, unlike the generally floppy messenger bags. Other than those differences, the bag is similar to other offerings.
The usual Tom Bihn features are here: high-quality construction, support for Brain Cell laptop sleeves, and lots of pockets. The bag is made from 1050 denier ballistic nylon and 500 denier Cordura and features splash-proof zippers in case you get caught in a downpour.
The outer compartment is accessible via a buckled flap. On the flap are two small pockets for things like CDs, phones, iPods, and the like. Under the flap is a large zippered pocket that runs almost the entire width of the bag and about half the height. This would be good for an AC adapter or other cables. The obligatory strap-with-a-clip is there for attaching some of the optional organizational pouches or keys.
The inside of the bag is just an open compartment with 3 plastic dividers for organizing your files. If you want to add laptop capabilities, you’ll have to buy the extra $60 Brain Cell, which can function as a standalone laptop case in its own right. You could also use your favorite sleeve if you’d rather go the cheap route. If you add a Freudian Slip, you can store/organize even more—it’s an insert that features pockets for files, pens, and other small items.
Finally, the back of the bag features a pass-through if you’re the type who has rolling luggage—it zips closed when not in use to become yet another pocket. Besides that, there are 3 other pockets that should be good for stuffing random things away if you’re in a hurry.
If you’d want to carry the Zephyr on your shoulder, an optional shoulder strap clips on to the opposing corners of the bag. Tom Bihn recommends the $30 Absolute Shoulder Strap, which is flexible and makes bags feel lighter and more comfortable—it does. It can also be used with the Brain Cell if you choose to purchase one. Although the ID is still our favorite over-the-shoulder bag, the Zephyr is fairly competent.
The Zephyr, much like many other Tom Bihn products is a bit of an investment, but will likely last you a long time—probably longer than the computer you are carrying in it. Furthermore, it is a good choice if you’re the type who wants a briefcase, but also wants something a bit more modern and adaptable than just a “laptop briefcase”. If you’re looking for similar functionality (but don’t mind less sheer capacity), the slightly-cheaper ID offers similar capabilities with an included shoulder strap.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The Zephyr takes the standard Tom Bihn features and puts them in a nice briefcase format, and it works quite well.
Pros: Quality construction, lots of pockets, can be configured in different ways
Cons: Other components cost extra